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Hints, Allegations, and Things Unsaid

13 Jan

I hear a lot of commercials for podcasts, but the phrase β€œBe the plant-strong person you were meant to be” stuck in my head. We resolve to be better people, but I’ve been wondering lately, even if we succeed, what do we gain?

In the end, we all want to feel better. For example, I need to lose weight. I know exactly what I can do to lose weight. I also know that my body will plateau twenty pounds lighter and will not move, despite how strict I keep to my diet. That means I will still be fifty pounds overweight at best. Why am I denying myself joy if the end result is only fractionally better?

For me, if I could get down to my high school senior year weight of 180 (at the edge of healthy BMI and I look lanky even then), then I would feel like it would be worth it. I would look good, be able to get results from exercise, and wear thinner clothes. But that’s not the end result–the end result is slightly slimmer, slightly better, and denying myself joy through food and drink.

I guess that I have to question whether or not something brings me joy (now I’m sounding like Marie Condo). My wife has been on my case for my drinking habits, and I’ve resolved not to drink around the house, but only when I go to the bar. I’ll admit, that did help–I certainly wasn’t getting any benefit from being day drunk. At first, it was to fight the boredom, and now, I don’t really need that anymore. Not that I’m not still bored, but I realized that I wasn’t getting joy from that alternative.

The main problem I face is that–in the end–my life will still be roughly the same. Whether I’m fatter or thinner doesn’t improve or decrease my life experience. I’m still a middle-aged semi-bald man working from home with a wife and two kids. I’m not about to hit the dating scene, I’m not run a marathon, or ride in a century race.

However, improving my relationships will improve my life. My wife and I have agreed to write a list of things we like to do separately and together. I always try to do things my kids want to do, and I often drag them to do stuff I want to do. I should invite more people to Friday dinner. If I want better friendships, I should be willing to do more for people. That seems like a better resolution and something that will actually improve my life.

There’s a reason why when we get older, we make less resolutions. But I think this is a good one: make better relationships. What do you think? Have you got a better resolution? A simpler one? What works for you? Let me know in the comments below!

The Lord Don’t Rain Down Manna in my Yard

7 Jan

In high school, our drama teachers decided to put on Quilters, a musical about women’s experiences in the Wild West. This hurt me because it was an all-female cast and this was my only chance to star in a musical. However, I forgave my teachers completely after I saw it.

A little background–I grew up in the small town of Morrison, Illinois, a wonderful place to grow up because it allowed me a lot of freedom and opportunities that I never would have gotten in a bigger city. If you wanted to be in a play, you could; if you wanted to join the football team, you could. There were few entry requirements because they simply needed people to participate!

Up until my junior year–when they decided to put on Quilters–the drama teachers (John and Anne Frame) would do a fall play, a children’s play, and a musical every year. If you’ve been a drama teacher, that’s an exhausting schedule, so for the 1991-1992 season, they decided to do a musical one year and a fall play the next. But at the time I was 16 and didn’t know that, so from my perspective, I had been cheated out of a performance. This was especially true because of the RHIP rule: rank has its privileges. I couldn’t get into Pump Boys and Dinettes because I was a sophomore, there were only two male parts (and only two female), so those were going to juniors/seniors. I didn’t know that at the time either, so to this day, I can still sing my audition piece, “Farmer Tan.” πŸ™‚

To add insult to injury, I found out that Quilters was an all-female cast of eight women. (It has been performed with a 2-3 men in supporting roles, but they don’t sing.) So now I was never going to star in a HS musical; I was pissed. However, to get eight singing girls to perform in our small school, they got every female who could sing AND wanted to perform. So that meant my sister, my sister’s friends, my female friends, and even some freshman girl I didn’t know all got to be in it… and I didn’t. Of course, since my sister was in the musical, I couldn’t just boycott out of sheer teenage spite. So I went.

Oh… my… God! The musical was beautiful! Each scene was a “quilting block” (which they showed) and told a different story about the Wild West. It had a real band in the band pit which played beautifully. The ladies on stage sang songs that sounded like 19th Century hymns (which I love) and often did it eight-part harmony. The stories were funny and serious and shocking and made me cry by the end. It was a beautiful experience… so much so, I went again the second night (there were only two performances)! I asked my sister’s friend whose dad recorded the dress rehearsal for a copy and I got it–I still have that tape and watch it, but usually only when I’m seriously depressed.

That musical for me represents a significant change in my life. Not only was it good, but it was a snapshot of what life was before everything changed. My sister went to college the next year–she ended up going two years, quitting, and then getting married to her stepbrother. It worked out, they’re still married 20+ years later, have three teenage boys, and she got her bachelor’s in Early Elementary Ed. My mother died in March of the next year, my stepfather remarried, and moved out to Iowa selling my teenage home. Half the cast have been divorced, picked themselves up, and sometimes married again. All the cast has children of their own. If they’re not where they thought they’d be, what I heard from them tells me things are doing all right. As one of them put it, “Now that we’ve had those experiences (that their characters had), we could put on a much better version.”

So every time I see it, I still cry–it’s that good. Have you got something similar in your life? A song, a movie, even a HS play that represents to you childhood innocence? Let me know in the comments below!

“Wind, Fire, all that kind of thing!”

6 Jan

The Placebo Principle teaches us that even if you know a treatment is a placebo, it can still work… and doesn’t that mess us up? So when you invoke the spirits and place the four elements in corners of the room, I ask myself, “Can it hurt? Can it help?”

My wife is the mystic in the family; I tend to look askance at that subject, but I’ve received benefit from meditation. I’ve had the spiritual retreat and the high that comes from it. She also encourages us to use alternative medicine, which in my experience, works just as much as allopathic medicine for minor aches and issues. However, last night, she wanted us to do an Indigo Healing for our kids.

Now if you have no idea what an Indigo Healing is, I’m not surprised–I’ve seen a lot of strange mystic stuff, and even this is pretty weird for me. Indigo Children are generally folks who have been blessed/cursed with some sort of supernatural abilities. They also tend to be ADD… like me and my kids. The idea (as I understand it) is that you are carrying some trauma from your past life and that is preventing you from reaching your ideal self.

O-kay… yeah, sure. So you can do a ceremony where you identify what issues you have, participate through a series of activities that help you heal from those issues, and then free yourself of that trauma. Does it work? Sure. I mean, there is an emotional release, you do feel a bit better from the experience, and it has a noticeable long term emotional improvement. However, I get the impression that it’s less about the “healing” than the ceremony.

You start off by creating a sacred space, placing the four elements in each corner, already priming yourself to take this seriously. You then chant phrases, you do actions, everything that you might expect from a religious ceremony. It also takes a frickin’ hour (?!), which really seals in the importance aspect. You are forced to be a participant to confront many of these issues… even if you pick them at random and are not exactly sure which things you’re healing at any given time (but you can guess).

As you can imagine, I’m not particularly sold on it. From my own religious practice, my weekly service lasts 2-3 hours, and it’s hard to keep focused throughout the whole thing. Thankfully, our tradition states you don’t have to be there for all of it. However, when you’re forced to stop and pause and sing and think about your relationship with God, you have those moments of clarity that make the experience worthwhile. Sure, you could pray by yourself anytime… but you don’t. You have to take a moment and force yourself to connect with the infinite.

Is it a placebo? Is it a healing? For me, it doesn’t matter–because it works on some level. What about you? Have you had those moments that you’re not sure are effective but somehow effect you anyway? Let me know in the comments below!

Tea Bag Wisdom

5 Jan

Maybe the words of the prophets ARE written on the subway walls… and tenement halls? After all, the quality of fortunes in fortune cookies have gone down, let’s look to tea bags for pithy sayings!

I will endeavor to keep my snark level at a minimum for this post. However, after looking at a particular New Year’s post, this reminded me of a particular brand of (really good) tea that puts these sayings on their tea bags, most of which are about the level of the fortune cookie. Not particularly useful, rather obvious, and mostly not helping your daily life. After all, “Let your energy be used to build, not destroy,” could mean anything, but means nothing. It’s not like I was going to create a spreadsheet today, but I decide, “Screw it, I’m going to defenestrate Prague!”

This particular saying reminds me of a tradition told about the Buddha — that after he was born, he said to his parents, “There has been no one like me before me, there will no like me after me.” Upon reflection, this is what every child tells their parent… because they don’t know any better. πŸ™‚

This tea bag conveys the Wheaton Principle: “Don’t be a dick.” Despite the triteness of this saying, it’s actually good advice. It’s so easy to be mean, it’s much harder to be good. However, one action follows another. If you’re good to one person, that person is actually more likely to be good to another, because you’ve put them in a positive mood. Moods are infectious and do create a sequence based on the initial moment.

However, most tea bag wisdom is pretty bad writing. “Your strength is your own belief” – seriously? “Your overconfidence is your weakness.” “Your faith in your friends is yours.” Sure, if I had the faith the size of a mustard seed, I could move mountains, but if I did have that power, I wouldn’t need to. It’s important to believe in something and draw strength from that belief… but this advice doesn’t help anyone.

Okay, let me REALLY tell you what I think about you! πŸ™‚ Saying what you mean is often the WORST advice you can give someone. As I said at the beginning, I’m going to keep the snark down, but if the snark is strong in me, imagine how strong it is in other people! We train ourselves at an early age NOT to say what we mean, despite the consequences to ourselves, because of the previous tea bag wisdom–“create the sequence of goodness.” Politeness is the sign of an advanced society; does it mean we hide our true feelings, sure, but we do it for the benefit of others.

Now I know what you’re thinking–you have a kid studying to be a dentist?! No, I was working at UConn Medicine and needed a coffee mug. That happened to be the one on sale. However, the tea was really good–I go with the Triple Ginger to get me through the Connecticut snowy winter.

I think in the end, the tea manufacturer has its heart in the right place. Sometimes the right saying at the right time can really change someone’s heart for the good. I was about to quit student teaching when I heard the words “Don’t Quit” twice in one morning; during a school announcement and a silly sign on the wall. But much like missionaries, you have to hit people at the right time.

Do you find wisdom in the tea bags, fortune cookies, and pithy signs of the world? Or is there a more sinister element to it? Or is it harmless fun to add to the spice of life? Let me know in the comments below!

“Then I will be the Singer and not the Song…”

29 Dec

It’s funny what will strike you at weird moments. My son and I were watching a TV show from about 10 years ago and a song was used in the background that took me back to when I first heard it. How is it that memory is keyed so haphazardly?

It was actually a really good cover of that song–Roll the Dice by Beth Orton–my friend burned the entire album off Napster (yes, it’s THAT old) after I exclaimed how much I liked one of her songs. Interestingly enough, I really like the Superpinkymandy album, which was all moody and really innovative. Then she went more pop-ish and I lost interest. (shrug) So it goes. That happened to Toad the Wet Sprocket for me. Loved their albums up to when they did the Friends songs, which was far more pop, and they lost everything that I liked about them. But hey, they probably sold more records, so what do I know? πŸ™‚

Getting back to the song–the cover was really good, and keyed to someone else’s memory–it was used first on an episode of the O.C. (a show I have never seen) five years earlier than the show I was watching, and apparently, people really enjoyed it there. My guess is that although we could–in theory–recall every memory we’ve ever had, only the stuff that has an emotion tied to it can come faster to the surface. I mean, if I really try, I can start thinking about my childhood home, start imagining what was in there, and then remember certain mundane things that happened there.

But, of course, I wouldn’t have gotten there if I hadn’t used the stronger memory of the place–the emotion of other memories tied to that location–to find the other memories hiding below the surface. For example, if I need to think about the two years I spent in Lawrence, Kansas, I instantly remembering cooking the green peas that we grew in our backyard, because that was an accomplishment for a six-year-old me. Then it gets to making grilled cheese sandwiches with dad, playing with Rachel and Stephanie up the hill, and drawing pictures on the cinder blocks that some construction firm so kindly left for us for four weeks. πŸ™‚ I can’t remember what our living room was like, but I remember the kitchen, my bedroom (vaguely), and my dad’s office.

So I get to the how–now to the why. Why is our memory coded like that? My thought: it keeps us sane. If we had instant recall of everything we ever did, my God, would that drive us crazy! I remember watching a great documentary called Born on a Blue Day, which is all about an autistic man who can do complex math very quickly and can learn languages incredibly fast. An amazing accomplishment to be sure, but it comes at the cost of being unable to function in other parts of life. He has a functional disability–other people with the same condition can remember the weather on any day of their life, but only to the effect that it was hot, or rainy, or cold. As superpowers go, he got the short-end of the stick.

Have you got a better theory? Can you remember extreme detail about mundane things? Have you been blessed/cursed with an eidetic memory? Let me know about it in the comments below!

Avoiding the Doctor’s Office

26 Dec

I don’t have a fear of the doctor–after all, I worked in hospitals for 11 years–but I have no great desire to go see one, even when I’m sick. Is it being cheap, annoyed at taking the time, just stubborn, or do I understand the limitations of what the doctor can do for me?

The answer is all four–sorry to give it away right at the beginning–but there’s no one reason. I certainly have a great respect for what modern medicine can do for me, but having worked primarily in emergency departments, I also know what is routine and doctor’s really can’t do anything about. These are known as Triage/Acutity 5 patients, and they take up so much time, that bigger ED’s actually have separate sections (“fast track” areas) to quickly deal with those patients, so they can leave space for the real cases.

Let me address my issues one at a time–yes, I’m cheap. Even if I had better insurance, it would still cost a significant amount of money to go into the doctor’s office. Thankfully, there are plenty of urgent cares, which do deal with the low acuity patients that ED’s would rather not see, but won’t wait to see a family practitioner. So even if I wait to see the local doc, I still have to pay $35 up front on top of whatever else he wants me to buy. I’ve actually gone to alternative medicine clinics more often because it’s far cheaper.

I also get annoyed at the waste of time. Average visit to the urgent care/ED still run between 2-4 hours, depending on the capacity. I understand why that is the case–the patient can’t, because they don’t see the other patients, or the amount of paperwork that has to be done for every intake, but it doesn’t make it any easier. Especially when you’ve been waiting an hour and the doctor comes in for two minutes, takes a look, and then says, “Oh, yeah, you’ve got X. I’ll write a prescription.” Unless you’re looking for a antibiotic, it’s usually not worth the wait.

There’s also a limit to what doctors can do. A majority of doctors tend to die at home, because if you know what’s killing you, you also know what can be done to stop it. And if there’s nothing–or the price is too high–why bother going somewhere else to die? I’m not saying you shouldn’t go in for testing or a physical every so often, but there’s no point going in for a sniffles.

So there’s the stubborn issue–my mother actually died from it. She was deathly afraid of doctors, and even though the ovarian cyst she had was perfectly and routinely treatable (and probably hurt like hell before hand), she didn’t want to go in. So when it burst–poof, she died of blood loss. (This was thirty years ago, so don’t feel too bad for me; man proposes and God disposes.) However, I have that stubborn streak, and if my kids cut their hand, my first thought is not, “My God, get them to the hospital!” It’s usually, “Okay, let’s get a bandage.” I’m worse with myself; I’m more willing to go for my family members.

What do you think? Do you have trouble going into the doctor’s office? Do you have the opposite problem? What’s your line for wanting to be seen by a medical professional? Tell me in the comments below!

Anger for the Converted

25 Dec

Nihil ex nihilo – nothing comes from nothing. When someone converts to a faith, they have to have left another, and that doesn’t matter if it’s secularism or atheism. When that moment happens, there’s a sense of betrayal by the “faith” you left behind.

I know–weird thing to choose for a Christmas Day post, huh? However, I was reading a lovely post by an ex-Mormon woman who shared her testimonial about leaving her faith, due to her sister’s being upset her previous post about the pagan origins of Christmas. The problem with leaving a fundamentalist group (and this is true, regardless of religion) is that on one hand that group provides a great strong community that you can count on, but the only way they maintain that community is by not veering from their ideals. And to talk about Christmas trees as a Germanic pagan practice, or the date being related to the Roman holiday of Saturnalia, is simply not done.

What this comes from is anger; this is not talked about as part of the convert experience. In missionary faiths, the convert is celebrated, and asked to share their testimony to when they came to the truth. However, they don’t talk about that moment when you realize, “My God, everything I thought was a lie!” That sense of betrayal doesn’t go away quickly or easily.

Contrary to popular belief, the convert leaves their home faith not because they have a lack of faith, but because they believed too deeply. Evangelical atheists (as I like to call them) will tell you all about how religion is the true sin of man, but they only got there because they were a firm Christian (it could be others, but it’s probably Christian) that believed strongly and wanted to know more. My friend who I define as “evangelical atheist” is the son of a seminary school dropout and a recalcitrant nun–you don’t get more Catholic than that.

They hit a point where the questions they were asking weren’t given good answers and came to the realization that there were no good answers. That’s rough. Penn Gillette (THE evangelical atheist) talks about growing up in the Congregational Church of Greenfield, Massachusetts and being asked to leave youth group because he kept pelting the leader with all these questions that he brought to each meeting.

For me, I did what most Americans do–hold two contradictory concepts in my head at the same time. Hanukkah is about celebrating the miracle of lights, even though 1 Maccabees or other contemporary accounts don’t mention it, and that only comes later in the Talmud. I believe the real miracle was the unexpected victory of Jews to win their independence. Christmas does fall at the same time as Saturnalia, but because that was a time when early Christians could celebrate openly, with fear of persecution. Bunnies and eggs are fertility symbols and used at the spring equinox which vaguely comes at Easter (your lunar calendar may vary with the solar one), but that doesn’t stop people from experiencing the resurrection of Christ.

I don’t have to defend my faith because the contradictions are not what I cling to. What I hold to is that God exists and He intercedes in our lives; what I believe follows from those two premises. Everything else is the tradition we choose to follow. Just like family, religion can be messy, and you don’t all get along, but we come together for the important stuff. And the pain goes away… eventually.

What do you think? What brought you to your principles? What kept you strong or made you leave your faith? Tell me in the comments below!

Post-Holiday Relief

23 Dec

There’s nothing like being home for the holidays–not that most of us have a choice in 2020–but as much as we look forward to the holidays, they really are a pain in the rear to actually get there. Dealing with personalities, cooking, cleaning, supplies… is it worth it?

Unlike most of you, I’m already done with my winter holiday. Hanukkah lasts eight nights, but you deliberately try to tone it down compared to Christmas. One, you’ve got more time to get it right, but two, you don’t want to get burned out on latkes and dreidels and jelly donuts too fast, because it’s gotta last a week. This year, we had the challenge that half of the kids’ presents didn’t arrive in time, thanks to the shipping glut that happened due to COVID. However, they’re older now, so when we told them they would get their presents later, they weren’t terribly upset. Besides, they got a pretty good haul so far, so nothing to really complain about.

Then came the perennial problems–not enough candles. This year, we actually got a hanukkiah/menorah for each of us this year, which was a big thing! That way, everyone could light their candles. Each menorah takes 45 candles; start with two, add one every night, and that’s a lot of wax, really darn quick. We actually had a TON of candles leftover from last year, but now we had four menorahs to light. Whoops. By seventh night, we were running out. I ran out to Target and… wouldn’t you know it, they were all sold out, because corporate HQ doesn’t believe there’s enough Jews in Phoenix to send more. However, the nice guy working there pointed me towards some birthday candles which worked just as well (and burned cleaner). We ended up using all but two candles by the last night. Whew!

Of course, I could say this about any holiday. Thanksgiving this year–which I didn’t blog about–was really nice, but my wife and our friends wanted to experiment with a vegan meal. Now, I don’t actually need the turkey or any meat, but there’s a lack of options when you’re being strict about no meat/no dairy.

The sages used to call the month between the High Holidays and Hanukkah the “bad month,” because there was nothing to celebrate. But considering you had to go through three holidays in two weeks, it was good to have four weeks off before the next holiday. Is it worth it? Yes. But just like any vacation, it’s good to recover after you come from the trip. I’ve got vacation coming up next week and I’m hoping to take the kids up to the mountains to see snow, but that’s flexible, based on Mother Nature and the vagaries of timing.

What do you think? Are the holidays worth it? Do you work more trying to relax than you do at your paid work? Let me know about it in the comments below!

This is Why You Hire Staff

22 Dec

Just when you think you’ve done it all before, what should have taken a half-hour ends up taking all morning. So I’m getting my new book, Drag’n Drop, ready to go on the Amazon site and… hilarity ensues!

Now here’s what really chafed my heinie–I actually got all the formatting done on my book text two months ago! Thanks to my generous (and good-looking) brother-in-law, Editor Ed, he actually had a professional artist make my cover. This is a new experience to me. I tried making my own cover for Defending Our Sacred Honor and I thought it came out good… but the more I look at it, the more it looks terrible. So I was rather grateful that Ashley Cser took the commission.

As mentioned, graphic design is really not my thing–which is ironic, because video production is my day job. But composition and performance are two different skills; just because I can find all this cool pictures and video and put them together doesn’t mean I can draw worth crap.

Speaking of which, I’ve got Kindle’s own e-book creator (Create), which works very well, and plugs everything exactly as I need it to. That worked fine. However, when trying to make the paperback version–because to stroke my own ego, I need to have them on my bookshelf–there was one major problem. The cover and the map weren’t fitting within the guidelines.

Getting the cover to work was understandable–after all, it’s the first thing that anyone sees. Ash had drawn the cover; after all, that’s what I paid her for. However, then I had to write the teaser text on the back, and put it all the other graphics. Took me an hour just to get that correct and then manipulate it so the picture appeared in the correct fashion. On the plus side, this will be the first book of mine that has the Albigensia Press icon on the spine!

If you don’t think that’s cool, you can instantly tell which books are professional or not by the publishing house icon on the spine. Interesting side note: All the hardcover books have the publisher icon at the bottom, all the paperbacks at the top. Weird.

Of course, once I conquered that hurdle, then there was that map. Considering I’ve blasted the last three authors who didn’t include a map in their book, I figured this was pretty damned important. However, my original map was pretty low quality, and it was drawn for a standard 8″x11″ page… and my book is 5″x8″. So I had to redraw it, left out a lot of the detail I originally included to fit it on the page, and thought I had it down. Nope. It took multiple tries to get the stupid thing in the right place so it wouldn’t get cut off by pagination.

However, four hours later, I think it looks great. Once you get a chance to see it on December 24th, I think you’ll agree. Yet I wish I had staff I could pay to do this for me–oi! I can’t be the only one who has this trouble. What issues do you have in your workday that you wish you could pass off to someone else? Let me know in the comments below!

The Best Pie?

20 Dec

The best pie, of course, is the one in front of you. πŸ™‚ But if you a choice, or you’re specifically going out to buy a pie, there are so many delicious options. How does one choose?

Pumpkin Pie

This is my first thought, so it’s probably correct, but pumpkin pie is so wonderful. Some of that is nostalgia–after all, you don’t eat it any other time than October–but it does have a wonderful taste and texture. The problem is that when you break it down, it doesn’t really need to be made of pumpkin. What you get excited about is the spice and the sugar–it could be made out of any gourd. In fact, I rather enjoy sweet potato pie, and it tastes very similar. In fact, I only learned about vinegar pie recently, which is the simplest form of this recipe.

Pecan Pie —

Again, anything with enough sugar is amazing, and most pies are full of it. However, the pecans on top really make a nice complement. Which lets me get to my childhood and…

Rhubarb Pie —

Rhubarb by itself is disgusting. It’s an insanely tart vegetable. However, you put it in a pie, drop a ton of sugar into it, and it’s a great compliment–a combination of sour and sweet that just melts in your mouth.

French Silk Pie —

When I was a teenager, this was the piece de resistance of pie eating. You’d go to the Village Inn, and after a good American family style meal, you’d ask for a slice of this. The shredded chocolate on top of cream was heavenly. However, it can be a bit too much, so I’m not as enamored of it anymore.

What do you think is the best kind of pie? Let me know in the comments below!

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